Vietnam War veteran looks back on May 5th, 1968

By Taylor Barnhill  - bio | email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -  It's been 43 years since Vietnam veteran Captain Jay Copley saved the lives of countless soldiers during an ambush. Now he will be recognized for his valiant efforts and rewarded with the distinguished service cross.

News Leader Nine sat down with Capt. Copley as he takes us back to May 5th, 1968.

"Early in the morning we got an order to move into LZ Uplift to take over base security to relieve a company on base security," explained Vietnam War veteran Capt. Jay Copley.

Little did he know, the men he was relieving were about to face an unexpected attack.

Veteran Gary Quint explained, "Being almost noon we broke for lunch and we had broken maybe five minutes when a whole round of fire came in and it was directed at the command trap, where I was in the center. We were almost immediately completely overwhelmed with Vietnamese fire, rockets, machine guns and mortar fire."

As Copley made his way closer to the base, he was informed of the desperate situation the company was in, "Harry told me we can't get in, it's intense fire, B-40 rockets and everything. I told Harry we don't have a choice, we've got to go in."

Harry Wilson, the man accompanying Copley on his mission added, "I just followed along. It's the first fire fights I've ever been in where we drove through. We just drove on through with Jay in the lead."

Men were dying left and right as the entire area was overwhelmed with fire, but Captain Copley continued to move forward.

Wilson pointed to Capt. Copley and said, "This crazy guy was standing on top of his track, not in his track, on top of it. And the reason was he was shouting orders."

Copley added, "That's when I got hit, but the thing was, I believe any leader worth his salt in the army... My main mission in life was to save those guys and nothing else mattered to me."

Despite being shot in the throat, Copley carried out his mission and saved the lives of countless soldiers.

"I mean, there was just so much coming in, there should not be any of us that survived and none of us would be, had we not gotten the help when we needed it," explained Vietnam War veteran Wendell Barnes.

Quint said, "Us three are here 43 years later only because Jay took the initiative and had the tenacity to just say "we ain't stopping"."

"If it hadn't been for y'all, we would be dead. We appreciate that," James Fitzgerald added.

Copley responded by saying, "It was a frustrating and long day that all of us will remember."

Captain Jay Copley will be given the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award of valor, in a ceremony Thursday. Everyone who knows Copley says the honor is a long-time coming, and it literally took an act of congress to get it to him.

Copyright 2011 WTVM. All rights reserved.